Public speaking is a prevalent fear among people of all ages, especially students. Whether giving a speech in school, presenting in front of colleagues, defending a position in a community council, performing a monologue or giving a eulogy at a funeral, learning to speak in public is an essential skill.
In “Fear of Public Speaking Hardwired,” the research of communications professor, Dr. Paul L. Witt is cited, concluding that although individuals vary in the degree of anxiety experienced, any person can overcome his or her public speaking phobia and anxiety by applying a few techniques.
According to the website Keynote Speakers, many lack the ability to address this fear because they have built up years of suppressing their ability to face it head on that they believe it would cause irrevocable psychological damage.
The Art of Public Speaking: Developing Presentation Skills
Is public speaking an inherited art or can it be taught and mastered? Executives are often in a position of presenting in front of colleagues and employees on a regular basis. Students are frequently required to present in front of a class in order to earn a grade. Some people appear very natural in front of large groups. In reality, many of these people were not born presenters but, rather, have learned how to present.
According to communications and behavioral specialist, Margot Krasne in “Say It With Confidence,” nearly all of the best speakers she has worked with and observed “practice and rehearse.” So, in reality, presentation skills are not necessarily innate but are actually developed through the type of trial and error that can only come from repeated practice. This is why leadership training programs often build in public speaking courses and components, acknowledging that effective presenting is a skill and not just the rare talent of the charismatic.
Proper Preparation Is Essential
In preparation, some presenters literally stand in front of a mirror and observe themselves as they speak. They practice modulating their voice to avoid monotony or extremes in pitch. They watch for distracting mannerisms that tend to creep in when people are nervous, such as scratching, swaying or tapping.
John Rogan from Motivational Speakers says, “Watching yourself speak is one of the most essential ways one must prepare so that they can observe themselves. The key is to do so without judgement so that you are able to make the necessary adjustments without being over critical.”
Speakers may also practice the speech ahead of time in front of frank and supportive friends or relatives to gather their observations. Just as studying for an exam helps to build confidence, this type of practice perfects the presentation and helps to build assurance in one’s ability.
Battling the Physical Symptoms of Stage Fright
Witt encourages individuals to visualize themselves going through the motions of giving the speech. The most important part of the visualization is picturing oneself successfully delivering the presentation and experiencing positive outcomes.
During the actual speech, for those who have a very high degree of anxiety, it is recommended to deal with any physical issues as they arise. For example, if experiencing a dry throat, it is okay to take a drink of water. If hands start to shake, clasping them together helps to avoid drawing attention to the problem. If the voice starts to crack, experts recommend smiling as this relaxes both the speaker and the audience.
Presentation Skills Training: Building a Relationship with the Audience
One strategy to ease personal anxiety when presenting is to focus on the needs of the audience rather than on one’s own discomfort. What does the audience need to hear? Besides the advice of watching one’s body language and maintaining eye contact, what will help to build a relationship with the audience?
Suggestions for connecting with an audience include telling an engaging story that captures their attention. Working visual images into the presentation is also useful for conveying a story and connecting with people. Making the presentation as relevant and interactive as possible is another method of making sure people are engaged and not dozing off.
Presenters need to remember that giving a speech is no different than speaking to a friend. If viewed from this perspective, the focus can be on communicating and connecting. This shifts attention away from feelings of potential embarrassment and anxiety, and redirects it to that of sharing, informing and inspiring others.